ExperienceBelgian researchers explore life at 15 degrees
In Louvain-la-Neuve, for the third year in a row, an engineer is applying “slow heating” principles to his home, for which he is both a researcher and a guinea pig.
“There are six of us in the family, we have a house of 200 square meters and currently, we keep the central thermostat at a maximum of 15 degrees Celsius”.
In Geoffrey Van Moeseke’s living room in Louvain-la-Neuve, central Belgium, the thermometer reads 14.5°C. Outside, the temperature is negative. Despite the frost that can be seen through the large bay windows of his living room, he assures that he does not feel the cold.
For the third year in a row, the engineer is applying the principles of the SlowHeat project – “slow heating” – to his home, for which he is a researcher and guinea pig. The research project, coordinated by the University of Louvain, consists of four researchers and about twenty citizens.
“Heat the bodies, not the walls”
The idea is simple: “Thermal bodies, not walls”. In other words, look for backup solutions that allow for local heating while consuming less energy than central heating.
The first reflex suggested by the researchers? Transform your wardrobe! “At the moment, I’m wearing a cotton sweater, very classic, and on top of that is an old, very warm cardigan. Underneath, I have two more layers: a T-shirt and technical sportswear, outdoors, which really brings quality,” he said. For the feet, he explains, socks and “old stuffed slippers that are very warm”.
Second tip: Support electric radiant heaters. Jeffrey van Moseske has two of them, which he lights for one to two hours a day: one in the living room, the other in his eldest son’s bedroom, the coldest room in the house – the average temperature rarely exceeds 12 ° C. This radiant panel – placed on a tabletop – quickly emits powerful heat.
On their site, the researchers recommend an electric heating cap, the purchase of which they promise will “pay for itself in a month.” Facing the computer, some of them use heated mouse pads.
Launched in September 2020, the SlowHeat project aims to address the energy crisis. “We wondered what would happen if the gas ran out suddenly,” explains Denis de Grave, research assistant at the University of Louvain. “In the beginning, we went crazy,” testified Grégoire Wallenborn, a researcher and teacher at the Free University of Brussels, who was tied with a large hood, a hat on his head and gloves on his hands. In his apartment in Brussels, the average temperature varies between 12 and 14 degrees Celsius.
Two years later, inflation and war in Ukraine have pushed up energy prices in Europe and the SlowHeat project is enjoying renewed interest. With gas and electricity bills only rising, Geoffrey Van Moeseke pays an average of 70 euros per month for heating alone.
Before testing their methods, the Slowheat researchers had to convince their families. “I came up with the project bit by bit,” says Jeffrey Van Moseck. “The first winter was much harder than the second, which shows that a kind of habituation and adaptation takes place over time.”
For her younger brother, Celestin, 11, in a wool sweater and shorts that reveal his bare legs, the temperature is no subject: “The first winter was harsh, we got used to the warmer temperatures, but I’m used to it there. It’s absolutely. I think it’s hot here,” he said. He smiles.
Not a “ban”.
But this is not the case everywhere. Fear of the cold, fear of neighbors or friends no longer wanting to visit, fear of conflicts with roommates or housemates… “Initially we had to overcome fear”, admits the researcher. Some habits are more complex than others, such as a pedal set installed under the desk, which allows you to stay in motion even while working. And the approach sometimes evokes strong reactions. “Some people see the program as a deterrent to living in poverty,” laments Jeffrey Van Mossack.
The researchers readily admit that their plan is not a one-size-fits-all miracle solution, but defend the need to rethink our habits, our relationship to consumption and energy. “The aim is not to tell people absolutely: You’re going to be cold. The idea is to have the same level of comfort but a few degrees lower,” explains Amelie Anciaux, a sociologist at the University of Louvain and a member of SlowHeat.
“Avid gamer. Social media geek. Proud troublemaker. Thinker. Travel fan. Problem solver.”